A few months back, the New York Times put a spotlight on the obscene energy use of cable, DVR, and other set-top boxes.  There are 160 million set-top boxes in the US, according to the EPA, and these boxes annually consume about $3 billion in electricity.  What’s shocking is the fact that about 66% of this electricity is spent when no one is watching and no shows are being recorded.  In the home, the DOE estimates that two set-top boxes will use about 500 kWh of energy every year — more energy than it takes to run a new refrigerator!

So it’s timely that the Energy Star program has released new requirements for set-top boxes (and also for televisions, too).

The EPA provides two approaches to meet Energy Star Version 3.0 for set-top boxes.  The first involves a “deep sleep” which encourages manufacturers to design products that use 2 watts or less while sleeping (instead of the average of about 16 watts).  The second is for the deployment of multi-room, thin-client devices in homes with two or more high-powered set-top boxes.  In essence, each energy-guzzling DVR after the first unit is replaced with a thin-client unit.

In July 2013, Energy Star Version 4.0 for set-top boxes will go live.  When that happens, set-top boxes will have to achieve approximately 20% additional improvement in energy use over the new Version 3.0 requirements.

Relatedly, the EPA just put new television standards in effect on September 30, 2011.  Televisions that meet these new requirements are on average greater than 40% more energy efficient than conventional models.  The new LED models can be the most efficient flat-panel TVs on the market, though plasma TVs and others may also meet the requirements.

[+] Get more information about Energy Star for set-top boxes.